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It’s normal for teens to get the urge to sneak out against their parents’ better judgment, take unnecessary risks every once in a while, or even try a drug. Teenagers are more prone to risk-taking because they lack the experience and ability of forethought necessary to avoid unnecessary actions. 

However, impulse control disorders take things far past any parent’s red line. When a teen is struggling with an impulse control disorder, their inhibition towards criminal behavior is greatly reduced, as is their compassion and their conscience. Teens with an impulse control disorder are often dishonest, act aggressively, and may commit crimes such as theft, arson, and assault while acting out. 

What is an Impulse Control Disorder?

Impulse control disorders are characterized by an inability to stop intrusive thoughts and belligerent, aggressive impulses.

In adolescents and adults alike, this translates into five distinct types of impulse control disorder, as per current psychiatric knowledge. These include kleptomania, pyromania, conduct disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Other examples of impulse control disorder that don’t fit into the aforementioned categories are usually described as another specific or unspecified disruptive, impulse-control, or conduct disorder. 

  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) – characterized by punctuated, episodic outbursts of violence. 
  • Kleptomania – theft-related impulse control disorder.
  • Pyromania – arson-related impulse control disorder. 
  • Conduct Disorder (CD) – characterized by repeatedly violating other people’s rights and spaces, as well as chronic rule-breaking. 
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) – characterized by refusal to obey adults, argumentativeness coupled with angry outbursts, temper tantrums, and inability to make friends. 

What Causes an Impulse Control Disorder?

Causes for an impulse control disorder range from genes to trauma. Certain environmental risk factors more heavily contribute to a teen’s likelihood of developing impulse control disorders, such as abuse, childhood poverty, or witnessing violence. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that anywhere between 50 and 60 percent of cases of certain impulse control disorders are passed down from generation to generation. 

Brain scans indicate that the problem can be neurological. Some people are predisposed towards struggling with impulse control more so than others. People who have impulse control disorders may also be more likely to struggle with memory and executive functioning (self-control and long-term planning). 

As with other teen mental health issues, risk factors are always an indication, but never a sure reason. A person could have all the risk factors for an impulse control disorder, and never develop one. Someone else might develop one without any clear causes. Looking for a specific cause to blame can be difficult – it’s usually a mix of multiple contributing factors.  

Treatments for Impulse Control Disorders

The treatment for a teen impulse control disorder centers on talk therapy. There are multiple different approaches and therapeutic programs. The most common ones include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family systems therapy, parental management therapy, and social skills training. 

There are no medications to treat impulse control disorders, but co-occurring disorders are often treated with medication. Treating a co-occurring disorder like bipolar disorder or ADHD alongside an impulse control disorder is important. In many cases, these co-occurring disorders can affect each other, making each other worse. 

At Visions, we get many questions about teenage behavior, and differentiating between normal and pathological. It can often be a fine line. Some of the questions we hear most often about impulse control disorders include: 

Can teens grow out of an impulse control disorder? They can. It’s not something to rely on, however. Unlike the “terrible twos” or many other childhood phases of destructive behavior, impulse control disorders are serious mental health conditions that are diagnosed in only a few percent of the population. Symptoms usually begin in adolescence, but don’t always persist into adulthood. That being said, when they do persist, they can lead to serious legal complications and dire consequences. 

What kind of mental health conditions can co-occur with an impulse control disorder? Impulse control disorders often co-occur with certain mental health disorders more often than others. This may have something to do with related risk factors, or a genetic predisposition. By far the most commonly associated co-occurring disorders are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and substance use disorder (addiction). Other co-occurring disorders include generalized anxiety and bipolar disorder. Impulse control problems may also be neurological and are commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease. 

Is trauma related to impulse control problems? Yes, certain impulse control disorders are strongly linked to childhood trauma, such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. What might have started out as a way to act out from abuse or neglect can develop into a behavioral problem during adolescence. This can happen even if there isn’t a history of impulse control issues in the family. 

What should I do if my teen has an impulse control disorder? If their condition is co-occurring with a personality disorder or a substance use disorder, it may be even more difficult to convince them that treatment is in their best interests. If you aren’t sure how to start a conversation with your teen about mental healthcare, your best bet may be to talk to a therapist about a step-by-step plan for an intervention. 

Impulse control disorders can co-occur with other mental health problems, such as ADHD, anxiety, or addiction. It’s crucial to work with a professional as soon as possible, to identify and execute an effective treatment plan. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at the Visions Treatment Centers via (818) 889-3665 to get started today. 


Impulse control disorders can be frightening and frustrating alike. They are complex mental health conditions with a myriad of potential causes and co-occurring risk factors. Identifying a cause for an impulse control disorder can be difficult – thankfully, identifying an effective treatment plan is less complicated. Impulse control disorders can be managed through a combination of individualized talk therapy, family therapy, social skills training, and an effective support system, especially at home. Work with us at Visions Treatment Centers to get your teen the help they need for their impulse control disorder. 

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